Jeff Dye is a nationally touring comedian, actor and host who has performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, finished 3rd on Last Comic Standing and has had his own Comedy Central Presents special. He stars in NBC’s new comedy adventure series Better Late Than Never featuring Henry Winkler, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman.
Jeff talked to Moontower about bombing at open mics during “The Dane Wave”, having tea at Henry Winkler’s house, and how a chance encounter at a bookstore changed everything.
Tell me a little bit about how you got started in comedy.
I feel very blessed that I always knew I wanted to be a comedian. There was never a distraction period or a time of me thinking I needed to go pursue anything. I’ve always known I was going to be a comic. When I got out of high school, I didn’t bother with college. I went to Giggles Comedy Club in Seattle, Washington and I just kept going to open mics and bombing and doing horrible, and eventually I got good enough that I got on Last Comic Standing.
Has your joke writing process changed since you started?
I was so bad in the beginning, it was embarrassing. Also, I was very much a part of the, as they call it in comedy, the Dane Wave. We all saw Dane Cook on TV and then we were like, “Oh, I can do this.” Then we went down to the comedy club and we’re all doing a horrible impression of Dane Cook, just big act outs and not a lot of formulated jokes as much as just a Dane Cook formula. So, it was not only bad, but it was also painfully desperate and un-originally familiar. Everyone hated me, obviously, right away.
Did you have a breakthrough moment when you started to turn that around?
I was bombing enough that it was getting a little masochistic, where I was getting like, “Dude, you’ve got to figure something out.” I will say when I was up there and doing poorly, I still knew I was supposed to be up there, if that makes sense. I know that’s hard to understand for someone who’s ever done stand-up, to someone who’ll read this, but even while I was doing poorly, I kept thinking, “I can figure this out. This is the job I want to do. I can totally get this.”
One day, I was at a bookstore, and I got this comedy book Judy Carter wrote about how to formulate a joke. I took the same ideas that were bombing, even things that got no laughs, and that night I was getting laughs by just formulating them the correct way.
That’s also why I’m so committed to setup, punch, tag. Because I see a lot of comedians who don’t use setup, punch, tag, and they’re great. They’re very funny comedians, and a lot of alt comics are hardly doing any sort of formula of jokes that we’ve seen before and it works, and they’re great. But for me, I’ve had such success with that, that I use it with everything. I just trust it so much. It was a part of my journey, so that’s why I’m so committed to it still.
Tell me about Better Late Than Never. This seems like a really insane, fun thing to work on though I’m sure it’s a ton of work as well.
I’ll correct you, it’s not a lot of work. These guys want you to think it’s a lot of work. William Shatner and Henry [Winkler] will do these interviews, they’re like “Well it is exhausting.” These men are getting to do what most people save up all their money and do when they retire. And they’re getting paid heaps and heaps of cash to do it.
The show is so much fun and we’re all very close. Since the show, everybody wants us to come to their hotel. Everybody wants to come their restaurant. They want to meet the four guys that I’m with, and they know it’s a commercial for their products on television. So not only are we getting to go to these great places, but we’re getting the best service, we’re getting it all for free. It’s a dream job. There’s no way around that. I’m flying first class, all these beautiful places, and getting to do all these first-class things with four guys that I really like.
How did they assemble this Avengers-like team of celebrities?
It is random. They just tried to get the four most famous people they could get. NBC and Henry Winkler would meet all of them, and then think to themselves “Would this be a good group?” And there were a lot of names in the hat. They came up with these four and said “We think this would work.” I was on a show called I Can Do That, which was really successful but they didn’t bring it back for a second season. About two weeks later NBC’s like “We need a young guy for this show.” And Paul Telegdy, the president of NBC, was like “I know, I’ve got the exact guy.” They called me, I went to Henry Winkler’s house and had tea. The next month we were flying to Japan.
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